Mar 10, 2020
How is VR changing the nature of safety training?
Imagine putting on a virtual reality headset. Suddenly, the ground below you begins to shake and you hear an industrial whine as you are propelled into a virtual world via a platform 30 feet above the ground. Your mission: to walk the "plank", a thin walkway between two platforms high above the ground. All of this is taking place at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University.
The lab's founding director, Jeremey Bailenson, has seen every type of reaction to this immersive safety training. Workers have laughed, cried in fear, and crawled on the ground to "protect" themselves. In other words, workers are exposed to real-world experiences without any of the inherent risks of a real construction site. Using VR in safety training allows workers to move their bodies naturally as they would in the physical world. This is beyond the digital world of the mouse and keyboard of more recent safety training online.
Another benefit of using virtual reality headsets in safety training is that workers had higher memory retention and boosted test scores. There is a 10% higher overall retention rate with VR than when compared to safety training on a desktop computer. Workers can also virtually test heavy equipment and run complex simulations such as shutdowns, high integrity turnarounds, and plant outages.
Virtuality reality safety training also boosts quality and efficiency, according to the National Safety Council.
In one example, workers ran a simulation on how to repair and troubleshoot heavy machinery. In traditional safety training, real equipment would have to be taken out of commission for training purposes. Productivity would suffer. Now with virtual reality, the fleet can continue to perform without interruption.
You don a virtual reality headset. Then, the floor begins to shake and the sound of an “industrial whine” is heard as you shoot into an illusionary world 30 feet above the ground on a platform connected to another by a thin walkway.
For many visitors to the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, one of their first experiences is “walking the plank.”
Jeremy Bailenson, the lab’s founding director, writes in his 2018 book “Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do” that some visitors gasp during these types of VR experiences. Others laugh, cry out in fear, throw out their hands to protect themselves, crawl on the ground or look around in wonder.
In one case, a federal judge dove in an attempt to save himself and catch an imaginary ledge after “falling off” the virtual platform. As a result, he slammed into a very real table – much to Bailenson’s horror.
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